NSW rice harvest winds down after mixed season

Emma Alsop, May 20, 2024

Harvesting rice in the Riverina in late March. Photo: Rod Gribble

THE RICE harvest in the Riverina region of southern New South Wales is almost over, with the above-average crop expected to come in at more than 600,000 tonnes.

The total includes a crop grown by Andrew and Leanne Cameron of Willbriggie which, at 16.85t/ha, has set a new record yield.

In a tale of two seasons, the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales dryland growers sustained a devastating hit to production, with crops destroyed or heavily impacted by blast disease.

Rice Growers Association president Peter Herrmann said strong yields and favourable seasonal conditions contributed to the overall positive outcome.

“We were able to sow our crops on time and we had a favourable summer,” Mr Herrmann said.

“We expect the crop to be well in excess of 600,000t, with generally above-average yields.”

This outcome finishes at higher than the ABARES March Crop Report forecast of 550,000t but below the December estimate of 693,000t.

Elders Griffith-based agronomist Meg Brown said growers had some setbacks during harvest, but most were happy with the harvest.

“The weather front caused a lot of it to stop and start, and we had the smaller guys waiting on contractors, but the majority was done by last week,” Ms Brown said.

“We had some really good performing fields with some yields as high as 13 and 14t/ha.

“It was good for us and we had a good yield overall in terms of our average.”

Ms Brown said most growers in her region had some quality issues due to the rain at harvest.

“Once the grain was dry, it then had the rain on top of it, which caused the grain to swell and caused some cracked grain.

“We saw some differences in grain quality across the different fields.”

Mr Herrmann said the industry was seeing positive returns from the variety V071 in its fifth commercial season.

He said the high-yielding variety had now almost completely taken over from the previously dominant Reiziq.

He said plant-breeding teams were also close to releasing an updated version of V071 which would provide additional production benefits.

“The soonest new product off the breeding list will be a V071 plus extra cold tolerance, and that is going to be the quickest way to robust yields.

“The research team are pretty excited about it.”

Northern blast impacts

In the north, rice growers are looking to the future following a disappointing season.

Natural Rice Company’s Steve Rogers said crops were severely impacted by blast, which took growers by surprise as well as impacting the future use of a staple variety, Sherpa.

“We didn’t realise we had blast in the area but it found its way into the rice this year,” Mr Rogers said.

He said Sherpa was the “most affected” of all varieties grown in the region.

“We have grown Sherpa since 2017 without any issues.

“Since the 2022 flood, we seem to see all these different things.”

He said the pathogen spread “really quickly”, with about seven farms or 180ha, about a quarter of this season’s crop affected.

“I have had experience with blast in North Queensland, and this one was very aggressive.”

Mr Rogers said due to NSW Department of Industries deeming via historical data that blast was native to the area, the industry was not required to destroy all crops.

“Anything that wasn’t savable we destroyed, just to reduce any load going forward.

“The ones that we saved…will be harvested.”

In a statement, an NSW DPI spokesperson said blast was discovered in February and was contained to the Northern Rivers region.

They said a total of 12 crops were affected.

“Ten crops could not be salvaged and no further spread was detected,” the spokesperson said.

“The southern industry remains blast free.

“The Department of Primary Industries is working with industry and growers to look at a range of measures covering rice blast in northern NSW.”

Mr Rogers said while Sherpa could not be a part of the mix going forward, there were some promising results with other varieties and trial lines.

“Silver linings that came out of it are from our breeding work.

“We got to test it against blast…and it turns out our breeding material did well.”

SunRice pool ranges

In a statement released to the ASX last week, SunRice updated growers on pool ranges for Crop Year 2023 and CY24.

SunRice chairman Laurie Arthur said the CY23 rice pool currently being processed and marketed was now $425-$435/t, narrowing of the pool range seen in March at $415-$440/t.

“As we approach the finalisation of the Financial Year 2024 accounts and audit over the coming weeks, this updated range reflects greater certainty of the impact of several competing market dynamics,” Mr Arthur said in a statement.

He said the CY24 range “remains unchanged at $370 to $430 per tonne”.

“Any range provided at this early stage of a crop cycle remains broad, due to the uncertainty which can arise from prevailing factors.

“This year, these factors include increased rice supply from Northern Hemisphere markets returning from drought conditions, the disruption to the global shipping industry, particularly in the Red Sea, and lower quality scores from the CY24 crop.”

Change tipped for vesting legislation

In another statement released to the ASX last week, Mr Arthur said SunRice was meeting with the NSW Government to discuss the proposed changes to the rice vesting arrangements.

In early April the NSW Government flagged its intention to put forward a bill to create a new rice export marketing and trade arrangement for the Northern Rivers growing region.

“The NSW Governmentʼs response has been delivered at a time when the Australian rice industry faces significant challenges, including the impacts of lower water availability under the Federal Governmentʼs Restoring Our Rivers Act 2023.

“As a result, we wanted to inform you that we have been in dialogue with Hon. Tara Moriarty, MLC Minister for Agriculture and the NSW Premierʼs Office multiple times in recent weeks with the Ricegrowersʼ Association of Australia (RGA) to express our concerns and proposals for a more constructive way forward.

“These meetings are part of an ongoing dialogue with the NSW Government to advocate for the strength of the NSW rice industry going forward.

“As the NSW Government is still considering its final position on this important matter, we are unable to provide any further detail at this stage, however we will keep you informed as details emerge.”

The NSW Government was expected to introduce the legislation this month, but it appears to have been delayed.

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